Almost two decades ago Rupert Everett exploded into the celebrity mainstream, starring as the flamboyant BFF alongside Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding. Since then, his career has been a series of near hits, mega misses and more reinventions than his former BFF Madonna. Most recently, Everett has been lauded for his portrayal of Oscar Wilde in David Hare's The Judas Kiss (playing at The Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto through May 1). Here, he shares some of the secrets to his success, including why Cher is like a shark and why advice is best left untaken.
Some advice on advice
I don't think it's good to have mentors. In life you have to be a mentor to yourself. Conventional wisdom is for copycats. The human condition now is that we are so tremendously secondhand. Everything we get comes from someone else. We have no creative drive within us. Every single idea we have comes from somebody else. This is disastrous for humanity. Funnily enough, I [recently ran into] this guy who asked what advice could I give him. There's nothing worse than advice. No one should ever give advice and no one should ever take any. Whatever advice one person gives is completely self-centered.
Make your own luck
A few years ago, I was working on a film about Oscar Wilde in the last years of his life when he was in exile. It was so difficult to get financing for the movie and then I suddenly remembered seeing David Hare's play [The Judas Kiss], which had Liam Neeson in it at the time. I thought, 'God, if I could do that play then I could show people that I could play Oscar Wilde.' I got it set up and the show was a big success in London. It was that success that unleashed my getting money for my own film – I got a deal with the BBC, I got a distributor. That's what I'll be working on next. I guess the lesson is about being proactive. In this business, you can't sit around and wait for anyone to do anything for you because they won't. It's not a very charitable business despite all the time we spend clicking our fingers for world peace.
Listen to Cher, be a shark
Cher is someone I love. She personifies this idea that you keep going. I was once complaining to her about my career and she said, 'Listen, it isn't over till it's over, and even then, it's not always over.' I was very lucky when the last incarnation of my movie career collapsed to have my training in the theatre. I don't know what I would have done otherwise. I honestly couldn't get arrested, but the theatre allowed me to keep going. One of the secrets to life is to be like a shark – when sharks stop moving, they die.
If at first you do succeed, die, die again
As actors, we quite often die and are reborn during a career. My career has certainly died on its feet three or four times and it gives one an amazing opportunity to see life in a very clear way. There's something very refreshing about starting at zero. You're forced to let go of all the baggage that you accumulate 'becoming somebody.' We all, during the course of our lives, accumulate a lot of baggage, whether it be our football team, our religion, our this, our that. It's only when we die that we can let it all go, and in show business you die quite often. You suddenly realize that the 'you' that was successful last year, that person doesn't exist anymore. Really, if you wanted to get to the bottom of what those religions like Buddhism are all about, it's about this idea of dying to everything constantly.
Think about your need for privacy
I think the tragedy for my career was that being gay was bigger than being an actor. When I came out in My Best Friend's Wedding, the frisson of it was that I was a gay person playing a gay character. Every interview I ever did was basically about being gay, which is fine, but it makes being an actor more difficult because people have too much information about the person. [Being gay] made my career and it kind of destroyed it as well. Not that I regret anything. I would never have been in the closet. Mostly because I loved going out so much. I think if I had been a very shy, retiring, stay-at-home type of gay person, I might not have been so open about my sexuality.